56 years after, honour beckons on Adelabu
By Oladele Ogunsola
He bestrode the politics of Ibadan, the headquarters of the Western region, like a colossus and till date he remains a reference point in the politics of the ancient city, his native land where he was more or less a political idol. That was Chief Adegoke Adelabu (alias Penkelemesi), who could be described as a forgotten hero despite his awesome popularity both in his lifetime and after his death. Ironically, hardly could any political discussion be held either formally or informally without the generous and positive mention of his name as a model in grassroots politicking. Yet, except for the annual memorial lecture instituted by the Ibadan Foundation in not too long a time ago, in 2008 to be specific to keep his memory alive, nothing had been done to engrave his name in the hearts of the people as it had been done to his contemporaries like the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his political foe, the late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola (SLA), who both at various periods served as the Premier of the Western Region. This perhaps might not be unconnected with the fact that the popularity of Adelabu notwithstanding, he never ruled the region like either Awolowo or Akintola. But, like the biblical injunction that there is time and season for everything under the sun, the era of paying lip service to the robust contributions of the highly colourful politician to the art and science of the game of politics before his untimely death on the March 20, 1958, might have become a thing of the past. This is going by the promise made by the governor of the state, Abiola Ajimobi, at this year’s edition of the annual lecture held in honour of the man. The governor declared that his administration would immortalize him for his selfless service to the people of the ancient city.
At the programme held at the Civic Centre, Idi-Ape, Ibadan, where the virtues of the great politician were extolled by the governor and which was a gathering of the who-is-who in Ibadanland and indeed, Oyo State, Ajimmobi expressed delight at being there. He said, “it is a gathering of our great sons and daughters, businessmen and politicians of sterling quality who, as it is done year after year, come to honour our departed hero on this day of his passing”. In his opening remark, he, first and foremost eulogized the man for whom all gathered at the even in his memory. According to him, “Adegoke Adelabu, the stormy petrel of Ibadan politics, was a great Ibadan son who lived and died an Ibadan. He stood for our brilliance, depth and exceptional skills in governance; indeed, our selflessness. When the world marveled at Adelabu’s charisma as a politician and his unusual approach of identifying with the common people in spite of his political height, they didn’t know that he was advertising a characteristic that is peculiarly Ibadan. Here, everyone is linked by virtue of clan, birth, inter-marriage and our common ancestry. We do not have a choice than to identify with our roots.
“Adelabu was an extremely intelligent man and a gifted orator. In all his writings and speeches, he espoused the superiority of the Blackman over all other races. At best, he believed that the Blackman’s skin did not render him subservient in any way to his white brother. The United African Company (UAC) scholarship he got to study at the Government College is a demonstration of his rare brilliance. Till today, about 60 years after, his academic record at the Government College remains a reference point. Even at the UAC, he was noted for his outstanding intellect and his organizational skills. His belief that the Blackman is not inferior to his white brother must have been accentuated by his highly applauded managerial skills as the first Nigerian manager in the then UAC, even while working with white manager colleagues. His oratory, profound intellect and sheer bravery in the face of gang-ups in a political system are still told today as tale of a legend’s accomplishment. He had an understanding of the English Language that baffled even the English, at a time when a high population of Nigeria was still illiterate. These all were demonstrated in his work entitled “Africa in Ebullition”. I enjoin us all to have a copy of this book to get an insight into how the mind of a people’s leader worked over six decades ago.
“What, however, remains today in Adelabu’s memory is the word, “Penkelemes”, an adulteration of his inspirational usage of grammar, ‘peculiar mess’ by local drummers and praise singers, it has come to represent the narrative of his depth and grammatical wizardry. I enjoin us all to get a copy of Wole Soyinka’s “Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years” to get an insight into this rare politician’s mind. Many of us politicians from this ancient city have always attempted in vain to recreate the Adelabu model and influence in our politics. The narrative of his politics is that of egalitarianism and bonding with the people. He was renowned for asking the common people to ride in his state-of-the-art car, in the purest of our dialect, stating that, ‘oko yin ni, o ya e mon gun’! (It is your vehicle, common, ride in it.)
“Even when he was being vilified for allegedly tampering with state money, the local drummers who came to witness the occasion pitched their tents with him. To them, it was merely political persecution as they burst into a song, which would soon become legendary. They sang, “mon kowo wa na, Igunnu lo ni Tapa, Tapa lo nigunnu, mon kowo wa na!” (Go on spending our money, igunnu (a type of masquerade) owns Tapa (a tribe in today’s Niger/Kogi State) Tapa owns Igunnu). Please read Soyinka’s aforesaid book to get details of the life of this uncommon politician and administrator. Adelabu believed in selfless service to his people. This is probably why he remains a reference point among the people of this ancient city. He loved to see Ibadan grow to an admirable metropole. I am sure if he were alive today, Adelabu would have been one of the greatest supporters of this administration. We have restored the pride of every indigene of this state and made their state capital a wonder to behold. This was the vision of the petrel of Ibadan politics for his fatherland.
“The lesson of Adelabu Adegoke is for every one of us to invest even if a fraction of his love and belief in Ibadanland in this ancient city. He believed in Ibadan and sacrificed all he had for its betterment. As we leave this auditorium today, let us go with the imperishable lessons of Adelabu’s bravery in the face of adversity, his courage and desire to make a change in his domain. As an administration, we are imbibing the lessons of his short but eventful life. In the areas of infrastructure, education, health, urban renewal and many more, Ibadan and Oyo State in general have witnessed a turn-around. Our desire is to have generations to come discuss our revolutionary touch of this state in positive terms too. I want to thank the Ibadan Foundation for organizing this event, the yearly remembrance of our hero. Intellectualizing his remembrance is also a commendable step being taken by the Foundation. We must never allow the memory of this hero past dim in the hearts of the people he lived and died for”, the governor said.
Delivering the lecture with the theme: ‘Local Government and its Impact on the People’, the guest lecturer, Dr. Isiaka Olalekan Aransi, stressed the need to go back to the roots and focus on local government in Nigeria. According to him, “since government is for everybody, the federal and state governments are more far removed from the grassroots people. A vast, widely variegated, multi-ethnic and multi-religion country like Nigeria should operate a three-tiered federal system where every level of government will be autonomous and operate within its area of jurisdiction as spelt out in the constitution. Nigerian local government should be given the pride of place it deserves as a tier of government in Nigeria. It should be appropriately strengthened, so that it can contribute maximally to growth and development at the grassroots level. It is only when this is done that the impact on the people can be better felt at the local government level in Nigeria.